Trauma Comparisons - Please Stop.


I recently was consulting with a family, who stated; "I'd like your advice on how to tell our child about their history, because I know you advocate for full transparency and we want to honor that. However, my child's story is quite a bit more traumatic than yours. I mean, you were adopted really young - 1 year old, right? And you had a really wonderful, loving foster home, correct? Well, my child was adopted at 3, and they'd already been through quite a bit..."

Over the years, I've heard countless different forms of comparing ones adoption-related trauma to someone else's for the sake of establishing credit for the choice to withhold information. When conducting trainings, there is typically a module where I discuss the dangers of secrecy, in tandem with the need for adoptees to know their full story. Invariably, someone in the class will say; "My child was conceived through incest. I really don't want them to know about this. They'd be devastated." Then someone else will volley back, stating "Johnny's birthmom drowned his biological sibling, I've been turning off the 5 o' clock news so that he doesn't hear about this. This would just destroy him." At a recent training, this back and forth ended with one parent reluctantly stating; "I haven't yet told my child that their biological mother struggled with the idea of whether or not to place them for adoption or keep them. But now I think I could tell her, I mean, it's not as traumatic as these other stories!" It's as if she felt like she was caught and needed to admit her guilt. 

The problem with this mentality is that in reality, no one is fighting the same war. Where everyone in life has battle scars, and some might be worse than others, there is nothing that makes one persons scars any more significant than another.
— Tim Mousseau

I am completely unwilling to rank any adoption trauma as worse than, the most terrible story I've ever heard, more difficult than, easier than, simple and straightforward or any other adjective that places someone along the fictitious trauma spectrum. For me to engage in this way would be unethical, irresponsible and unfair to the child (and the abuser). Trauma is and belongs to the experiencer, and we are in no place to judge how difficult or not it may be for the child to assimilate these facets of their story.  The bottom line is, it's the child's story to know, and the question should never be whether or not to tell the child, but rather, how. There is absolutely no point in trying to one-up someone else on the invisible trauma-scale, as such a scale does not exist.

An adoptive parent is often privy to information about their child before the child. It is their responsibility to dispense this information in an age appropriate manner as early as possible. Seeking the assistance from a professional is a great choice, because sometimes the difficulty is not actually the story itself, but rather the parent's comfort around the topic. Perhaps its the parent who is distraught to know that their child was conceived through sexual assualt. If that's the case, that is an issue we can work through! There are many qualified folks who would be pleased to help parents assimilate the sad truths about their child's life. 

However, comparing ones trauma to another is like comparing apples to oranges. There is simply no point. Please stop.